S. 3217: Senate Financial Services Bill Cloture Motion Cliffhanger

WASHINGTON BUREAU -- Members of the Senate kept viewers in suspense Wednesday as they voted on limiting debate on a substitute version of S. 3217, the Restoring American Financial Stability Act bill.

The initial cloture motion vote -- on a motion to invoke cloture on S.A. 3739, a "manager's amendment" to S. 3217 -- failed by a 57-42 vote, according to Senate Democrats.

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For the latest S. 3217 coverage, see S. 3217: Harkin Indexed Annuity Amendment Hits Wall.

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S.A.3739 was developed by Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, and by other senators, such as Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., the highest ranking Republican on the Banking Committee.

S.A. 3739 supporters need 60 votes to limit debate.

Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both Republicans from Maine, voted for cloture, and 3 Democrats -- Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.; Russell Feingold, D-Wis.; and Harry Reid, D-Nev. -- voted against cloture. Reid voted against the motion so that he would have standing to ask that the motion be reconsidered.

After the vote, Cantwell said she voted against cloture on S.A. 3739 because she believes the bill would not do enough to make financial institutions conduct derivatives transactions through clearinghouses, rather than in the over-the-counter market.

Feingold said the current version of S. 3217 would not do enough to keep financial firms from becoming too big to fail, or enough to put barriers between ordinary banking operations and Wall Street securities operations.

If the Senate does not approve a cloture motion, bill opponents could kill the bill by engaging in a filibuster, or endless round of debate.

The Senate is supposed to resume debate and S. 3217 and the manager's amendment Thursday, and another S.A. 3739 cloture motion vote is set to take place at 2:30 p.m. Thursday.

After the cloture motion failed today, Senate Democratic leaders began trying to win more support for cloture by debating more amendments. The Senate approved S. 3883 by a voice vote. That amendment, offered by Snowe, would require a proposed financial services consumer protection agency to consider the effect of its actions on small businesses. The Senate also approved an amendment offered by Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., that relates to the definition of the term "credit."

The Ensign amendment would delete lines 17 and 18 on page 1,273 of the draft of S.A. 3739. It would apply proposed consumer credit protection rules to a wider range of retail credit programs.

Earlier today, the Senate rejected S.A. 3884, an amendment introduced by Cantwell and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., that could have reinstated the old Glass-Steagall Act barriers between the insurance, banking and securities businesses. The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999 eliminated the barriers.

The American Council of Life Insurers, Washington, has been one of the groups urging members of Congress to defeat the amendment.

"In all the analysis of the circumstances that contributed to the financial crisis, the authority of depository institutions to sell insurance, as permitted under the Glass-Steagall Act, or to underwrite insurance through an affiliate, as permitted under the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, have never been identified as systemically risky activities that should be restricted," ACLI President Frank Keating says. "Enactment of this amendment would result in widespread disruption to the distribution of these insurance products and to the detriment of insurance consumers."

If the amendment had passed, "the practical effect would be that the sale of insurance by banks would come to an end," according to Kevin McKechnie, executive vice president of the American Bankers Insurance Association, Washington.

Some of the other groups opposing the amendment include the American Insurance Association, Washington; the American Bankers Association, Washington; the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers, Washington; and the Financial Services Roundtable, Washington.

In other S. 3217 news:

- Sen. Jeffrey Merkley, D-Ore., moved Wednesday to introduce S.A. 4115, an amendment that would restrict banks' use of proprietary trading, and participation in hedge funds and private equity funds, and impose extra capital requirements and other quantitative limits on the proprietary trading, hedge fund and private equity activities of "nonbank financial companies."

The Financial Stability Oversight Council proposed in S. 3217 would conduct a study of implementation of the proprietary trading restrictions. That council would be asked to look for ways to "appropriately accommodate the business of insurance within an insurance company subject to regulation in accordance with the relevant insurance company investment laws while protecting the safety and soundness of any banking entity with which such insurance company is affiliated, and of the United States financial system."

Under the provisions of the amendment, federal regulators could permit "the purchase, sale, acquisition, or disposition of securities and other instruments ... by a regulated insurance company directly engaged in the business of insurance for the general account of the company and by any affiliate of such regulated insurance company, provided that such activities by any affiliate are solely for the general account of the regulated insurance company,"if the insurer was complying with state and federal laws and regulations.

Merkley also introduced other versions of the proprietary trading amendment -- S.A. 4126, S.A. 4127, S.A. 4128, S.A. 4129, S.A. 4132 and S.A. 4133 -- that contain what appear to be similar insurance company provisions.

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